Minneola group turns graffiti-laden problem area into blank canvas for local artists with an eye for beauty and a heart for community.
Once walkers, runners, and bicyclists catch a glimpse of what’s been so boldly painted on an overpass tunnel, located directly under U.S. Highway 27 along the South Lake Trail, they may not be able to help but stop in their tracks – or at least slow down.
That’s because the site, just west of Minneola Trailhead Park, consists of vibrant 15X9-foot works of art by local artists, commissioned by members of the Minneola Artworx committee.
The initiative is part of the ‘Murals on the Trail’ project that Lisa Jones, a former Minneola councilwoman and owner of Vantage Realty, spearheaded.
Lisa says the project is intended to unify the community, attract visitors, and curb graffiti that before the murals, was well on its way to turning the tunnel into an eyesore.
“For several years, I noticed graffiti along this Minneola overpass, and I continued to bring it up to the city. After one formal discussion, city officials said, ‘OK, go ahead and do something,’ Lisa says, explaining that the city’s stamp of approval to find a proactive solution to the city’s graffiti problem, brought Lisa, Josie Dix, Gustavo (Gus) Ortiz, Diane Revels, Lisa Harris and Jimmy Chiefari together to brainstorm the best approach.
The team of arts advocates, made up of a diverse segment of the community, created the Minneola Artworx committee, and were adopted by the Minneola City Council as an entity with a goal of integrating art into the city.
The group met with leaders from the City of Ocala since they have used murals to achieve similar goals, and from that, devised a plan of their own.
“We did some research and found that when you bring art to the community, people will come to look at the art and spend money in the community. The whole point of this is to really feed our community, feed our culture, feed our businesses, feed our people, and just feed our souls really,” Lisa adds, explaining that funding for the project came from private sponsorships so that taxpayers or the city, were not burdened. Sponsors like Orlando Health and Duke Energy have taken the lead, but others are still welcome.
“The more the community gets involved, the more pride they have in their town.”
As for the murals, the committee invited students who attend any Minneola school to participate by submitting designs. One student from each school was chosen to paint a mural, then the opportunity was extended to local artists.
Artists whose concepts are chosen, get $500 in compensation for time and supplies to paint the mural. Students receive $250 for themselves and $250 for their respective schools.
Lisa Harris says she has heard nothing but positives about the project.
“I have been coming and sitting down here for weeks while the murals have been painted, and I’d say well over 200 people have either told me or the artist how much they love this whole thing,” Lisa Harris says of the 11 of 20 murals that have been painted thus far. “A lot of them live here off of the trail, and they hated the graffiti, it made them sad, but these images make them feel happy.”
Additionally, one of the murals which consists of hundreds of handprints, all in primary colors, was a community effort.
Josie says that particular mural adds nostalgia to the project, because when those who had a part in it return, they know exactly which handprint belongs to them.
“That was a really cool thing people got to do, and we really got good feedback from it,” Gus says. “Every handprint up there represents a person in the community who contributed something to the project.”
Gus says the team found it important to involve the community in the project as much as possible, especially since the theme of the murals they chose, is ‘community.’
“The more the community gets involved, the more pride they have in their town,” he says, adding that, “Slowly, all of the graffiti is going away and all these murals are going up, so that sense of pride is starting to build.”
With that, committee members say any attempts to deface completed murals will be met by a sealant that allows unauthorized graffiti to be washed right off.
They do hope street artists will submit applications for their work to be officially considered, however.
“We have some really cool things going on, and we are open to all kinds of artists, they just have to go through the formal process,” Gus says. “The main thing is that we really love the community and the arts.”
“The two are a really good kismet, they are really good partners, so we are trying to find opportunities to bring the arts to the community and do it in a way so the community can bring the arts to us,” he adds.
Artists interested in applying for one of the remaining mural spots should visit the Minneola Artworx website at minneolaartworx.org/artist-registry before the Aug. 15 deadline.